A little over two months ago, we reported on Mexican officials and news media announcing they expected a massive return of migrants from the United States. In the face of economic uncertainty and lack of jobs, they predicted the migrants would come home to Mexico to stay.
Turns out that, if anything, the U.S economic crisis has motivated many Mexican migrants to remain in the U.S., rather than make the expensive trip back home to try to weather the economic storm in an economy that is less well-prepared to deal with it.
In late November, Diego Muciño, secretary for migrants in the small city of Zitácuaro in Michoacán state, was bracing for the arrival of more than 4,000 townspeople who now live in the U.S., local newspaper Cambio de Michoacán reported. Migrants usually return to Mexico for the holidays starting on the Thanksgiving weekend and Muciño said the city expected as much as 27 percent of its 16,000 migrants to come back.
However, in a phone conversation with this reporter just two weeks later, Muciño said his expectations had not been met. He reported that the number of migrants returning was smaller than the typical influx of people who visit for the holidays every year and then return to work in the U.S. around February.
“They prefer to stay there to see what happens,” Muciño said. “They expect it’s going to get better with the new president.”
The news — or rather, the absence of it — was confirmed by a Michoacán state official, who said the trend so far was that fewer seasonal visitors were coming back than in recent years. (Michoacán is the No. 1 Mexican state providing migrants to the U.S.) The official, who was interviewed on background, said the November media stories about a massive wave of returning migrants were probably just “a scare,” a reaction to worrisome economic news coming from the North.
The same change in tone can be seen now in Mexican newspapers.
Mexico City’s Reforma reported returning home “is not an option” for Mexicans who can’t find a job in the U.S.
The paper quoted Manuel Rodríguez, the Mexican consul in Chicago, as saying,
There is not a noticeable increase in the amount of returns of compatriots to Mexico. We don’t see a massive return of workers affected by the crisis or afraid in the face of the uncertainty generated by the economic situation. It’s important to prevent confusion and disquiet from sprouting in Mexico or within our community in the U.S.
Chicano anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, a professor at New York University, offered a similar perspective when interviewed by the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. “If the recession is global, I don’t think that many people will return, because they will look for a way to survive in the United States,” Rosaldo said. “Looking for work is fundamental for migrants.”
Another scholar, José de Jesús Meza Tapia of the University of Guadalajara, rejected the notion of a massive return to the state of Jalisco. The state’s economy, he said, “doesn’t allow for them to survive and have a good quality of life, since they can’t fulfill their work expectations and the job market doesn’t give them everything that they need.”
In the northwestern coastal state of Sinaloa, Noroeste news website reported that southbound traffic from the U.S. was much less than in previous years. In the border city of Ciudad Juárez, returning migrants interviewed by El Diario said they didn’t intend to stay in Mexico, “they just come to visit their relatives back home with fewer gifts or with none at all.”
Conclusive evidence is hard to find on something as elusive as the movement of undocumented migrants. So far, however, it seems that officials’ dramatic predictions of a couple of months ago have not been fulfilled.